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supposed character of the speaker, as well as to the import of what is spoken.
There are several particulars relating to the speaker which we must attend to, before we can judge whether his expression be natural. It is obvious, that his temper must be taken into the account. From the fiery and passionate we expect one sort of language, from the calm and moderate another. That impetuosity which is natural in Achilles, would in Sarpedon or Ulysses be quite the contrary; as the mellifluent copiousness of Nestor would ill become the blunt rusticity of Ajax. Those diversities of temper which make men think differently on the same occasion, will also make them speak the same thoughts in a different manner. And as the temper of the same man is not always uniform, but is variously affected by youth and old age, and by the prevalence of temporary passions; so neither will that style which is most natural to him be always uniform, but may be energetick or languid, abrupt or equable, figurative or plain, according to the passions or sentiments that may happen to predominate in his mind. And hence, to judge whether his language be natural, we must attend, not only to the habitual temper, but also to the present passions, and even to the age of the speaker. Nor should we overlook his
intellectual peculiarities. If his thoughts be confused or indistinct, his style must be immethodical and obscure; if the former be much diversified, the latter will be equally copious. The external circumstances of the speaker, his rank and fortune, his education and company, particularly the two last, have no little influence in characterising his style. A clown and a man of learning, a pedantick and a polite scholar, a husbandman anda soldier, amechanick anda seaman, reciting the same narrative, will, each of them, adopt a peculiar mode of expression, suitable to the ideas that occupy his mind, and to the language he has been accustomed to speak and hear: and if a poet, who had occasion to introduce these characters in a comedy, were to give the same uniform colour of language to them all, the style of that comedy, however elegant, would be unnatural. Our language is also affected by the very thoughts we utter. When these are lofty or groveling, there is a correspondent elevation or meanness in the language. The style of a great man is generally simple, but seldom fails to partake of the dignity and en: ergy of his sentiments. In Greece and Rome, the corruption of literature was a consequence of the corruption of manners; and the manly simplicity of the old writers disappeared, as the
nation became effeminate and servile. Horace and Longinus * scruple not to ascribe the decline of eloquence, in their days, to a littleness of mind, the effect of avarice and luxury. The words of Longinus are remarkable. “ The truly «eloquent (says he) must possess an exalted and “noble mind; for it is not possible for those who “ have all their lives been employed in servile “pursuits, to produce any thing worthy of im“ mortal renown or general admiration.” In fact, our words not only are the signs, but may be considered as the pictures of our thoughts. The same glow or faintness of colouring, the same consistency or incoherence, the same proportions of great and little, the same degrees of elevation, the same light and shade, that distinguish the one, will be found to characterise the other: and from such a character as Achilles or Othello we as naturally expect a bold, nervous, and animated phraseology, as a manly voice and commanding gesture. It is hardly necessary to add, that style, in order to be natural, must be adapted to the sex and to the nation of the speaker. These circumstances give a peculiarity to human thought, and must therefore diversify the modes of human language. I
* Hor. Ar. Poet. vers. 322–332. Longinus, sect. 9. 44. will not say, as some have done, that a lady is always distinguishable by her style and handwriting, as well as by her voice and features; but I believe it might be truly said, that female conversation, even when learnedorphilosophical, has, for the most part, an ease and a delicacy, which the greatest masters of language would find it difficult to imitate. The style that Shakspeare has given to Juliet's nurse, Mrs. Quickly, Desdemona, or Katharine, would not suit any male; nor the phraseology of Dogberry or Petruchio, Pistol or Falstaff, any female character. National peculiarities are also to be attended to by those who study natural language in its full extent. We should expect a copious and flowery style from an Asiatick monarch, and a concise and figurative expression from an American chief. A French marquis, and a country gentle: man of England, would not use the same phrases on the same subject, even though they were speaking the same language with equal fluency. And a valet-de-chambre newly imported from Paris, or a Scotch footman who had been born and bred in Edinburgh, appearing in an English comedy, would be censured as an unnatural character, if the poet were to make him speak pure English.
May we not infer, from what has been said, that “ language is then according to nature, 6 when it is suitable to the supposed condition “ of the speaker?” meaning by the word condition, not only the outward circumstances of fortune, rank, employment, sex, age, and nation, but also the internal temperature of the understanding and passions, as well as the peculiar nature of the thoughts that may happen to occupy the mind. Horace seems to have had this in view, when he said, that “ if what is spoken on the “ stage shall be unsuitable to the fortunes of the “ speaker, both the learned and unlearned part “ of the audience will be sensible of the impro“ priety: for that it is of great importance to “ the poet to consider, whether the person “ speaking be a slave or a hero; a man of mature “ agę, or warm with the passions of youth; a “ lady of rank, or a bustling nurse; a luxurious “ Assyrian, or a cruel native of Colchis; a mero cantile traveller, or a stationary husbandman; “ an acute Argive, or a dull Beotian.”*